Hurricane Harvey car insurance: How your auto is covered

FEMA press conference

An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles in the Houston area alone could be a total loss due to damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, according to an analysis by Cox Automotive, the company that includes Kelley Blue Book and AutoTrader.

If your vehicle was damaged by this historic storm with its record rainfalls, widespread flooding and winds exceeding 125mph in some places, there are a few things you need to do to get your wheels back.

After it's safe to return to your vehicle, the first thing to do is to start drying out your car and assessing the damage. If the vehicle was submerged up to or over the engine, don't start it. If there's water in the engine cylinders, it can cause severe damage if you attempt to start the engine.

Instead, have the vehicle towed to a reputable mechanic who should examine the oil dipstick and drain and inspect the engine oil and transmission fluids. Take pictures of the drained fluids -- if there's any trace of water, then the engine and transmission may be a total loss. There could also be water in your fuel tank, and many of the auto's electronics may be damaged by water as well. 

Five costliest hurricanes

Even if the car dries out well, salt water is extremely corrosive and the damage from it may only become apparent several months or years down the road. For this reason, it's strongly advised to avoid buying a used vehicle that was transported to another market after it was previously in a location during the time of a major flood.

If you have comprehensive coverage included in your auto insurance policy, and it was in place before the storm, then you should have coverage to repair or replace your flood-water damaged vehicle. To begin the process of making a claim on your auto policy, follow these steps:

Take lots of pictures and document everything. The more pictures and documentation the better. Don't forget to ask your mechanic to write observations on any inspection report. Take pictures of the car's odometer, the interior and inside the trunk as well. 

Contact your auto insurance company. If available, have your policy number on hand when you call and let the insurer know the extent of the damage and the number of pictures you've taken. Be patient -- the insurance company will be inundated with calls from other folks in the same situation, so the more prepared and organized you can be, the better for you and them.

Ask about a rental car while you are waiting for the repairs or replacement of your vehicle. Most comprehensive policies will include short-term rental benefits, so take advantage of this coverage. But beware: Many local rental vehicles were probably damaged as well and available rental vehicles will be in short supply while demand will be very high.

Harvey's impact on gas prices, home insurance

If you don't have adequate auto insurance to repair or replace your flood-damaged car, there still may be a few options for some assistance.

Many of the areas where vehicles were damaged were declared disaster zones by President Trump, which means folks with damaged property may get some assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for property losses not covered by insurance. Contact DisasterAssistance.gov or call (800) 621-3362.

Your home insurance policy may cover some of the damage to your vehicle, especially if it was parked at your home when it was damaged. Contact your home insurance company and any coverage will depend on the type of your policy.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, or S.B.A., makes low interest loans available to homeowners and renters who have property damage due to natural disasters. Check with the S.B.A. by calling (800) 659-2955. 

Finally, if you have no insurance coverage, you can sell your flood damaged vehicle to a salvage yard, and use that money towards the purchase of a replacement. Get offers from at least three different salvage yards before you agree to sell it.